The travelers

Sunrise.  An old green Toyota car.  A white-haired veterinarian and a redhead teenage girl inside the car.    So okay, there were two people traveling to see a certain young man and his grandparents’ veterinarian friend.  What was unusual about that?

The car held more than two people.  It also held two squirrels!  They looked like thinner, younger versions of Vernon – if you must know.

The older squirrel became quite animated.  He wanted to be sure the car was going in the right direction, so he jumped into the front seat and perched onto the gear shift.

Not to be outdone by her older brother, the girl squirrel jumped into Trudy’s curls and repeatedly pointed the way to Rod’s town.   That is, until Trudy woke up from her little nap in the front seat as Dr. Zuckermil drove the car.

“Yowww!  Argggh, what’s in my hair?” Trudy yelped.

At that point, Dr. Zuckermil, who did not have good side vision, turned his head to see what was bothering Trudy, and then he saw both squirrels! He pulled off the old highway just as quick as a cat takes off after a mouse.

“Help!” yelled the squirrels, even though it was the humans that might need help.

Amazingly, Dr. Zuckermil and Trudy both understood Animal.  The squirrels were lucky!

“Where in tarnation did you come from?” the vet asked the squirrels.

When everyone in the car finally was able to breathe normally again, the humans got their answer.

“We hopped into your car when you were parked overnight at the motel,” Waynie the boy squirrel said.

“That’s because you left the windows rolled down,” his sister, Mary Ann, explained.

“But why did you want to come with us?” Trudy asked.

Waynie answered, “because our Uncle Vernon told us about…er…um…his friends and how we should visit him.”

(They didn’t want to give details about the concert.  Let that be up to Nana and Gramps.)

“Oh, what town does your uncle live in?” asked Dr. Zuckermil.

“We don’t know the name, we just know how to get there,” the squirrels said in unison.

Not knowing that the squirrels’ Uncle Vernon knew Trudy’s boyfriend Rod, and that Rod and his grandparents knew Dr. Zuckerman, Dr. Zuckermil shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, I guess it’s okay if you come along with us.  At least, as far as we’re going…”

Trudy and Dr. Zuckermil took turns driving for the last eight and a half hours of their trip.  They had stopped at a convenience store somewhere and picked up unsalted mixed nuts for Waynie and Mary Ann, and Trudy even poured some water into a little saucer that they could drink from.  When they stopped at a rest area for a picnic lunch that they had packed, Waynie and Mary Ann got out too and scampered around and played in the trees.  And they were sure to be back in the car in time to take off again.  Going to see Uncle Vernon, and thus the concert, meant everything in the world to them.



Sally arrived at the zookeeper’s house at 7 a.m. and shook Rod’s shoulder.   Still lying on the chaise lounge, he and Nestor didn’t react until…

Rod’s dream flew away as fast as a missile.   Nestor had been winning battles on the street in his Dreamland and was rudely awakened by Sally.  But their big show was coming up in the near future, and they thought only of the big picture.  No time to nurse grudges now!

“Hi Rod!  So, are you all ready to have me see the costumes?  I need to thank you already for making them.  Well, you know me — I have lots of ideas but not so much time to work on them.”

Yeah, yeah, let’s just show you the costumes now, no need for the cheery chit-chat, Nestor wanted to say; however, he halfway smiled and said nothing that Sally could understand.

“Well, you’re welcome, Sally, but it wasn’t that difficult.  Let’s go out to the animals now; Nana should be out shortly,” Rod tried to be welcoming.   He knew that his efforts to be patient and understanding were well worth it for the animals’ sake.

Sally loved animals, but she was a little reticent to go right up to them in their enclosures.   At a safe distance, she raved and oohed and aahed about the costumes.   Amazing!  Beautiful!  Wonderful! were her words of praise.   She reminded Rod of the woman in Minnesota who Nana knew, Debbie Cheerful.  Debbie Cheerful had the joy and exhilaration of a child and often jumped up and down if she really liked something.

Sally was shown the costumes and asked to make a few more, namely a vest for each male animal and a coat and tails for Twiga.

“Sure, I can do them today, if your grandma lets me off the tour bus schedule today.  It will take a miracle, but I’m pretty sure they’ll get done in time.  And you know what?

I can make miniature spats for Twiga, so he will look like Mr. Peanut with his cane and top hat and coat.  Plus, I’ll glue sequens over the knots in the cords so the “bumps” will look pretty.”

“Oh – yeah,” Rod agreed.  “Is there anything else you have in mind?”

“Of course, there’s more,” Sally said.

“I want to get some silk leis at the big discount store.  Our “ladies” will wear them, and for bigger animals like Wisteria, I will attach two or three together to make them long enough.”

After Rod put in the animals’ two cents’ worth to Sally, it was decided that Nguvu would sport a gold crown, to signify that he was king of their jungle.  Sally tried to memorize Nguvu’s head size so that she would be sure to buy the right crown.

“Oh my!” Nana joined them, coffee mug in hand.  Rod looked longingly at it, even though he couldn’t stand coffee.  Well, but I really need it, he thought.

“This is all so – beautiful!  It’s all coming together so nicely!”  Rod stood by her side, ready to catch her if she had one of her fainting spells again.   In fact, he thought Sally was headed on that same path.   Even she looked ready to faint; this was a lot to take in!

Sally left to go to the discount store, while Rod and Nana started to feed the animals their breakfast.  The animals went into the respective homes.   They happily began to dream  of the coming show – and their outfits.  Wow!

Wisdom Night becomes Wisdom Morning

“Hold it, everybody! Come back here!” Rod gave a shrill whistle and summoned the animals back to Wisteria’s place.

“Now that we have the costumes figured out and made, I should probably fill you in on other details, too. Time’s a wastin’, as Gramps says,” Rod began.

“That’s fine, boy, just fine,” Nguvu spoke up. As a nocturnal animal who was at his best in the evening, he didn’t want to go to bed anyway.

“Okay. Very importantly, here’s a reminder: DO NOT SPEAK to anyone in English, not even to Nana, because she has to pretend she doesn’t know about the language of Animal.
Got it? THANK YOU.

Um, some side notes here…remember the church that is loaning us the chairs? The choir director’s husband will handle the soundboard. He’s so used to doing that for the choir and worship team, he’s an old hand at that.

“Ooh, yeah, anything he does will be great. His wife sure leads those guitar players well!” Nestor approved.

“Nana and Gramps will sit in the front row,” Rod continued. “AND – Wisteria: can you be on the lookout for any malfunction of the equipment? I mean, suppose one of the speakers gets a short in it and starts a fire? We haven’t had much rain lately, and I’m just concerned about how dry it is…”

Wisteria said, “Count me in. Even if something would happen during my performance, I still can shoot water onto the fire or whatever.”

Everyone gave a sigh of relief. They too were worried about the dryness of the grass.

“Well, who will take the tickets, and make sure no one runs off with the money?” Twiga wanted to know.

“That’s a good question, Twiga,” Rod answered, “and it appears that Sally’s aunt, a certified public accountant, will be handling the cash box.”

“Oh, I see. If she’s a CPA, then I’m sure it will be handled well, like the fundraisers they have for public television,” Twiga approved.

“And for the extra music Nana wanted, I’ve chosen a song from when she was a young girl. Nestor, do you know Color My World?”

“Yup, sure do,” he proudly said. “And if it’s slow dancing she wanted, everyone but the very youngest kids will know that song. Sure, I can play it. How are you at singing it?”

“Ha!” Rod laughed. “Nothing to worry about, my dear cat. It’s just that I will have to – you know – get over my nerves!”

“Never fear, Rod, I can help you out with that.  We will wow the crowd like nothing they’ve ever heard before!”  Nestor offered.

“Or seen!”  Amelia giggled.

All of a sudden, Twiga bent his neck down and head-butted Rod, causing him to fall over.

“Hrrmph, Sir?” Twiga said.

“Would you mind if I did a little dance?”  Once Twiga asked the question, he got nervous.

“What you like to dance to?  I can probably play ‘most any song you can come up with,” Nestor asked.

“Hazy Lazy Crazy Days of Summer.”

“Sure, you can do that,” said Rod.  “What kind of dance would it be?”

“Um, I need a top hat and a cane.  I’ll stand up on two legs to my full height, and my hooves will act as tap shoes.  But I would need a wooden platform to dance on, so people can hear my hooves, if you please.”

“No problem, Twiga.  You know, I was thinking Nestor and I should have a little stage and be higher than the audience.  So, I’ll hustle and build the stage tomorrow,” Rod said.

“Yes – but will you have time to make the stage in time for the show?” Rod’s animal friends wanted to know.  “It’s already three in the morning!”

“Well, I hate coffee, and I hate soda pop, so I guess I’ll have to run on my own adrenaline.  But that’s okay, I have plenty to spare!  Also, Gramps likes to do carpentry projects – he’ll help.”   Rod was satisfied with his answer.

“Okay – one more thing.   I overheard Sally tell Nana about her extra touches.  Want me to tell you what they are so you can be prepared?”

The extra touches were discussed.  Rod had to do some cajoling, as some of the animals didn’t like what they would be wearing.  Once all were in agreement, Rod went home with Nestor, and they slept on the deck on a chaise lounge.  Rod wanted to be woken up as soon as Sally came over.  He had to get rolling on the stage project with Gramps as soon as possible!

Zoo couture

With the seating and the advertising sorted, it was time to move on to costuming, which would take place that evening during the Wisdom Night meeting. It was decided that Nana would stay home, because they didn’t want to make Gramps suspicious. Why would his wife suddenly want to go out at 11:00 at night? That would be very strange indeed. But she would leave for her feeding rounds early in the morning so she could visit Millie and Wisteria to see how the preliminary costumes look. When Wisteria trumpeted the signal for the meeting, Nana began to be excited and started imagining what the costumes would look like.

Tumbili and Kima dragged their stacks of palm fronds to Wisterias enclosure and met all the other animals that had already gathered. The ever-helpful Twiga helped Kima and Tumbili lift their loads into enclosure.

“These are two nice stacks of materials.” Twiga said as he dropped the last bundle on the stack. “I must say, I’m intrigued to see what you are going to do with them, Kima.”

“I have some ideas for some lovely traditional adornments,” Kima said, walking around Millie in even paces, measuring her up, so to speak. “And even some special accessories. First we need to take some measurements from these two fine ladies.”

Both Millie and Wisteria blushed at the compliment.

“Next we need braid some cord with strips of palm leaves. Nguvu, may we ask your assistance? Your sharp claws are just what we need to turn these leaves into strips.”

Nguvu nodded, “I would be delighted to help in any way I can, my dear.”

“Wonderful!” Kima, “Tumbili, will you be our cord maker, while I sort through these fronds for the prettiest, greenest ones?”

Tumbili, shrugged and nodded and smiled. “Sure! Um, but I don’t know what to do.”

“Well I’ll show you.” Mila selected a leaf and placed it near Nguvu’s giant paw. “If you would be so kind, sir, as to place your paw here with your claws out.”

Nguvu complied and his razor sharp claws easily poked through the leaf. Then Mila pulled the leaf through his claws and it turned into several thin strips. She placed the leaf on the ground again and looked at Nguvu, who quickly got the idea. He placed his paw on another part of the leaf and Mila pulled again. The repeated this until they shredded the leaf into hundreds of thin strips.

Then Mila showed Tumbili how to braid the strips into a cord. Tumbili turned out to be an excellent student and soon he had a coil of braided cord winding around his feet. He smiled while he worked, because he liked to make a contribution.

Rod and Nestor arrived with Vernon and Amelia in tow, just as Mila had finished sorting a pile of fan-shaped fronds. The fronds in one pile were much larger than those in the other pile.

“Hi everyone,” Rod waved to all the animals who greeted him in return.”What’s the haps? Looks like everyone is busy here. Anything I can do to help?”

It seemed it was Mila’s night to take charge. “Yes there is, young man.” She arranged each of the fronds from the two piles in a specific pattern on the ground. “Will you be so kind as to make notches here, and here on each of stalks of these fronds? Then take some of the cord that Tumbili is making and connect them all together starting from one end all the way to the other? Wrap the cord around each stalk where the notches are, but be careful not to move them out of position. They are very carefully placed to fit each one of our performers.”

Rod nodded and winked. “Gotcha.” He took out his Swiss army knife and got to work.

Once Mila was satisfied with the way work was progressing, she took a stack of specially selected fronds. “I’ll be back to check on you in a little while. No peeking. I want this to be a surprise.” She walked off to a secluded corner of Wisteria’s enclosure, where the light from a street lamp shone in. All the other animals looked at each other, wondering what the big surprise was.

With nothing else to do for the moment, Vernon and Amelia went to snooze on the cool grass. Nestor went to visit with Wisteria for a while. Then Wisteria and Millie practiced practiced their dance moves while Nestor played his guitar.

Work progressed until the wee hours of the morning. Mila returned just as Rod was finishing the last knot on the smaller pattern of fronds.

Mila inspected his work. “Perfect!” she smiled with excitement. “Now, connect these two with a length of cord and then tie one from here to here and here to here.” She pointed as she spoke and it was all Rod could do to keep up with here. Rod complied and she stood back, sizing up the two patterns of fronds. All the other animals watched her in nervous anticipation. After a few minutes of chin scratching and eyebrow raising, she gave a thumbs up. All the other animals gave a happy sigh of relief.

“Millie, Wisteria, shall we try them on?”

Millie and Wisteria nodded emphatically. Twiga, being the tallest by far assisted Mila in lifting Wisteria’s costume onto her. Rod carefully placed Millie’s on her. Everyone stepped back to see Mila’s creations. The strange patterns that she had laid out on the ground now became spectacular skirts of fan shaped leaves covering Wisteria’s and Millie’s back legs. They swayed gracefully back and forth when the girls moved. Everyone gasped at how clever and beautiful they looked. They all cheered and congratulated Mila on her wonderful work.

Mila curtsied and thanked them. “But wait,” she held up her hand, “I said there would be a surprise.” She went to where she had been working alone and returned shortly with her surprise. Two intricately woven palm leaf tiaras. One quite large one for Wisteria and one smaller one for Millie. Twiga helped Wisteria settle hers on her head and Rod placed Millie’s on her.

Millie and Wisteria were so taken aback and grateful that they almost burst into tears. “Oh thank you, thank you, thank you, Mila!” they both exclaimed and turned around to show off their beautiful costumes to everyone.

“Looking good, Milady” Nestor winked at Wisteria who blushed prettily.

“Stunning,” Twiga bowed his head toward Millie, who whinnied and pranced around.

Everyone congratulated Mila and her crew for a job well done and they all shared a big group hug. Then it was time for all the zoo animals to go back to their enclosures, because Nana was going to be there soon to see the costumes. Boy was she in for a treat.

A media frenzy (of sorts)

After Nana had taken a bit of a rest she went to the newspaper to ask her friend Marge to put an ad in the paper for the concert. When Nana told her what the ad was for, Marge just looked at her and politely smiled.

“A guitar playing cat!” she exclaimed softly.”How wonderful. And your grandson can sing? This sounds very interesting.”

“Oh yes.” Nana drummed her hands on the counter. “We have a very talented zoo, yes we do! Would Morris be willing to read this ad on air at the radio station, do you think?”

“Hmmmm.” Marge considered the question for a second, “For a guitar playing cat, absolutely!”

“Wonderful. Thanks, Marge. And admission to the concert is free for both you and Morris. Toodles!”

While Nana was at the newspaper, Gramps, Rod and Nestor, took a drive in Gramps’ flatbed truck to the the church on Baker street to pick up the chairs for the show. While Rod, Gramps and Pastor Abernathy were loading the chairs onto the truck, Nestor decided to take a stroll around the church grounds. He thought about hunting for rats, but decided that it might not be such a good idea around a church. Then he heard the sounds of guitars being tuned up coming from an open window. He leaped up to the window sill and looked inside. There were eight young kids all with guitars standing in front of the altar. They tuned their guitars for a while and when they were all ready they looked at the music director who had been waiting patiently for them to tune up.

“Okay kids. Let’s do Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” She raised her baton and started conducting the kids. From his vantage point on the window sill, Nestor was entranced by the sound of those eight guitars all playing in unison. As the kids played on, he bobbed his head in time. When they were finished, he noticed that Rod and Gramps had joined him at the window.

“That’s some mighty fine guitar playing.” Gramps scratched Nestor behind the ears. “Mighty fine.”

Nestor started to say something but caught himself. He purred instead, and Rod winked at him.

On their way back home in the truck, Rod turned on the radio. The DJ was just finishing up the news report.

“And now we have a special announcement. This coming Saturday, there will be a very special concert at the zoo. It seems we have a very talented cat in our town who can play a guitar! Who’d a thunk it? And Albert and June Benedictson’s grandson, Rodney will be singing while said cat, Nestor is his name, plays his guitar. I also hear there might be an dancing elephant and a dancing zebra. This should be a sight to see. I hope everyone makes it out to the zoo, this Saturday at 7:00 PM. I know I’ll be there. I wouldn’t miss it!”

“Hey,” Gramps switched off the radio, “That’s you guys. I bet the whole town will be there now.”

Rod and Nestor both gave each other wide-eyed stares and nervous grins.

“Yay.” Rod squeaked.

Patio party

As Nana and Rod and some of the animals were taking a rest on the patio, Rod came up with a poem. He said it aloud because he knew his animal friends would like it, and that Nana would never make fun of him; in fact, she often encouraged him. The poem went like this:

Oh, dear Nana –
I wonder, would she like a banana?

She usually blushes
but now here come the flushes.

Her face is pink
she is now too warm
she wants to be near a cool sink
and have a cooler form.

Go, Nana, go!
Get out of the sun
Wanna finish your project to sew?
We’ll stay out here and have more fun.

At the end of this recitation, Rod looked embarrassed. Nana, however, was very pleased.

“Rod-d-d-neeeeee? You make a grandma proud. You’ve gotten to know me so well since you’ve been here. I’m proud of you that you think of others before yourself. Well, I will go in now, but first I’ll bring your friends some snacks since they missed out on lunch.”

Happy murmurs arose from the group as Nana went inside for a minute. She then came back with mixed unsalted nuts for Vernon, some greens and carrots and rabbit pellets for Amelia, a tiny bit of tuna for Nestor, and lemonade for Rod.

“Oh, but Mrs. Nana, I didn’t know you had rabbit pellets at your house. Do you have a rabbit hutch, too?” wiggled Amelia’s nose as she asked that very important question.

“Well yes, I have rabbit food and a hutch in the garage. I was planning on getting a rabbit for Rod when he arrived, but time got away from me. Would you like to sleep in the hutch, dear little one?”

Amelia couldn’t think of anything more grand than to have a place just for herself. “Oh yes, please, missus, I would be so thrilled. And thank you for this fine lunch!”

“Okay then,” Nana replied, “Rod, how about you bring the hutch out to the backyard for Amelia? Keep it out of the sun, though. Make sure you give her plenty of water, too…”

One thing Nana was, was very thorough as well as caring. Rod and the animals all wondered if she had been speaking Animal for awhile.

“Oh, and folks? I’m just getting the feeling that for the show you should sing a love song, you know, and then people could slow dance in the audience if they wanted to. I think that would be a big hit!” Nana added.

Rod didn’t understand why Nana wanted another song added. But he decided to go along with it. “Okay, Nana,” he said, looking directly at Nestor when he said it.

When Nana went back into the house, Nestor had a question for the man whose shoulder he used as a sitting ledge.

“Hey Rod! I liked your poem. I think I could make a little song out of it! But you know, I’ve been wondering…I’ve never heard the reason why you were in trouble with the law back home. What gives?”

Rod thought a moment, then said: “I will tell you why as soon as you tell me how you store your ebony, miniature guitar.”

Details, details

“Yes, that will be good. Saturday it is. See you then!” Gramps murmured into the phone by his bedside. When Sally was having coffee in the kitchen with his wife, he had taken the call in his bedroom to have some privacy. Nana knew what was going on, but they sure didn’t want to inform Sally – or anyone – not yet.

Gramps thought about his news while lying on the bed until he heard Sally leave. Then he sauntered into the kitchen.

“Hey, Honey,” he said, “How did your planning meeting with Sally go?”

“Oh, just great. After her bus tours today she’s going to get some things for the animals – she’ll buy them with her own money. She has lots of good ideas for what to add to the costumes to give them sparkle and zest!”

“That sounds like her,” he quipped.

At that moment Rod and Nestor appeared from the attic.

“Rod! Do you mean to tell me you took that poor cat into the attic? What if he couldn’t breathe very well up there? And what were you doing?” Nana asked. Nestor stuck out his chest proudly and started purring in his usual loud fashion. Wow, the love of a good elephant, a nice young man and a caring grandma – well, a cat never had it so good!

“We were practicing our songs.”

“But Sally and I didn’t hear you…” Nana replied.

“That’s because you two were so excited about the costumes, you couldn’t hear us. And besides, Nestor doesn’t play very loud,” was the answer.

“Oh,” Nana was easily placated.

Gramps added, “Hey, that reminds me. What do you think, Nestor Cat, would it be helpful if you could play your guitar into a microphone?”

Rod had to warn Nestor – and quickly! – not to speak to Gramps yet. For now, he would have to pretend he was just a normal everyday cat. Since Nestor was perched on Rod’s shoulder, Rod pinched Nestor’s foot, Nestor understood, and fortunately Gramps had not observed the pinch or the “yow!” from Nestor.

“Umm, yeah, Gramps – that would be cool. I can borrow a sound system from someone in town, I’m sure,” Rod said. “And what about the chairs for people to sit on to watch the show?”

At this, Nana patted Gramps’ arm and smiled lovingly at him. He announced:

“The church on Baker Street has already allowed us to borrow their folding chairs from the church hall. And you know what? They’re not charging us anything! Hey – maybe you can ask the pastor if you can borrow their sound system, too. I hear tell they have a church service that would knock your socks off. They have young kids playin’ guitar and singing – right up at the front!”

Upon hearing this, Nestor started kneading his front paws into Rod’s shoulder. Cats knead their front paws as a sign they’re content. For Nestor, however, he was more than content. He wanted to go to church to hear the guitars! He hoped Rod would take him soon! Maybe even Nana could slip this musical cat into a big purse and bring him along…

After the human beings had lunch, and Nestor had relished a wonderful treat of actual tuna from Nana, Gramps headed into town on some errands. Nana, Rod and Nestor sat on the deck, and soon Amelia and Vernon arrived.

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